Airey, George (DNB00)


AIREY, Sir GEORGE (1761–1833), general, father of the better known general and staff-officer, Richard, Lord Airey [see Airey, Richard], was born in 1761. He entered the army as ensign in the 71st regiment in 1779, and was promoted lieutenant in 1781, when he exchanged into the 48th regiment, and went with it to the West Indies. He probably did not go to this unhealthy station from choice, but because of the better pay, and it was by keenly observing and learning the military features of the islands that he laid the foundation for his future advancement. In 1788 he was promoted captain, and might have remained one for a long time had not the war broken out with France in 1793. He was then thirty-two years of age, which, at a time when men became lieutenant-colonels at twenty-three, meant but little chance of rising, but nevertheless by his topographical knowledge he managed to be of great assistance to Sir Charles Grey, who in 1793 reduced the French West India islands with the help of Sir John Jervis. Grey was so pleased with him that he recommended him to General Tonyn, who made him his aide-de-camp, and to Sir Ralph Abercromby. The latter, when he came out to reconquer the French West Indies which Victor Hugues had managed to regain for the republic, made him assistant adjutant-general to his force, and was very pleased by his conduct as a staff officer. It was one of Abercromby's great titles to fame that he always encouraged merit in officers and men, however unsupported by influence; and he therefore procured for George Airey a majority in the 68th in 1796 and a lieutenant-colonelcy in the 8th regiment in 1798. To the same kind patron may be ascribed his selection as deputy-adjutant-general to the garrison of Minorca. This appointment prevented his accompanying the expedition to Egypt, where his patron was killed; but his activity and real merit soon won him a powerful friend in the influential General Henry Fox, the brother of the orator, and at this time governor and commander-in-chief in Minorca. The somewhat indolent general liked to have such an energetic man to save him trouble, and took him as military secretary to Ireland, when he was appointed commander-in-chief there in 1802. He there married the Hon. Catherine Talbot, daughter of Lord Talbot de Malahide. He accompanied General Fox to Sicily as military secretary in 1805, was deputy adjutant-general and military secretary to General Fraser in the disastrous expedition to Damietta in 1807, was promoted colonel in 1808, commanded a brigade in Sicily in 1810, was promoted major-general in 1812, and appointed commandant of the forces in the Ionian islands in the same year. He was appointed quartermaster-general to the forces in Ireland in 1813, where he stayed many years, was promoted lieutenant-general in 1821, received the command of the 39th regiment in 1823, made a K.C.H. by George IV, and died at the age of 72 in 1833. Sir George Airey did not see any service except in the West Indies and at Rosetta, but nevertheless the value of his services to the army must not be underrated. His ability may be vouched for by the way Sir Ralph Abercromby, a strict judge of staff officers, took him into favour when only a captain, and his unfailing popularity with every chief he served under. 'It is more rare to find an able staff officer,' the Duke of Wellington stated, 'than a good regimental officer,' and this was not wholly due to the favouritism which pushed on incompetent persons.

[Philippart's Royal Military Calendar, vol iii. 3rd edition, 1820.]

H. M. S.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.4
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
202 i 9f.e. Airey, Sir George: for in 1812 read in the same year, became lieutenant-general 4 June 1811
7f.e. for in the same year read in 1812
4f.e. omit was promoted . . . 1821
l.l. for in 1833 read on 15 Feb. 1833